Donald Trump’s rhetoric about “illegal immigrants” in the United States has defined his race for the White House from the day it began. This has emboldened his hardline supporters and concerned his opponents.
Yet it could be problematic at home because his wife Melania, a Slovenian immigrant, worked as a model in the United States in 1996 weeks before she was legally allowed to work in the country according to documents obtained by the Associated Press.
The AP reported late Friday night that according to “detailed accounting ledgers, contracts and related documents from 20 years ago,” Melania Trump was paid $20,056 for 10 modeling jobs in the United States between September 10 and October 15, 1996. This was when she was allowed to be in the United States and look for employment but not do paid work in the country. Her lawyer, reported the AP, said she obtained a B1/B2 visitors visa and then arrived from Slovenia on August 27 1996 — before getting an H1-B work visa on October 18 of that year.
The management agreement was dated September 4, and other ledgers included clients like Fitness magazine and Bergdorf Goodman department store. The modeling company, Metropolitan International Management, paid her rent, lent her money, and supplied her with a pager.
After returning to the United States from Mexico in September, Donald Trump said in a widely-covered speech on immigration that for those in the United States illegally, there was “only one route” to staying legally: “To return home and apply for re-entry.” Even when Trump, for a time, walked back some of his more extreme rhetoric on immigration, he said he would focus on deporting “criminal immigrants” first.
The AP talked to a former employee on condition of anonymity who authenticated the documents, which were “yellowed with age.” A former partner of the modeling firm, Paolo Zampolli, confirmed his signature appeared on the document and the contract language matched what the now-defunct firm used. The AP also matched other exhibit and legal markings to confirm the documents’ legitimacy.
Mrs. Trump’s citizenship status will almost certainly not be affected even if the documents the AP examined confirm that she violated immigration laws. It has been 20 years, and the government attempts to revoke citizenship only in the most extreme cases, where the individuals are involved in terrorism or war crimes. However, normally when an immigrant violates the terms of a visitors visa by working for pay in the country, they are prohibited from changing their immigration status in the future, and often are prohibited from returning to the United States.
Trump has said in the past that she followed the laws relating to her short-term visa and traveled back and forth between Slovenia and the United States to renew it before obtaining a green card in 2001.
“I follow a law the way it’s supposed to be,” Melania Trump told MSNBC in February. “I never thought to stay here without papers. I had visa. I travel every few months back to the country, to Slovenia, to stamp the visa. I came back. I applied for the green card. I applied for the citizenship later on after many years of green card. So I went by system. I went by the law, and you should do that.”
In August, when Politico reported that photographs of Mrs. Trump appeared to show evidence of her having worked in the United States prior to being allowed to work here legally, she released a statement refuting all allegations of impropriety. A letter from a lawyer who had represented several Trump companies confirmed her statement, pointing to the existence of documents that confirmed that she did not start work in the United States until October 1996.
— MELANIA TRUMP (@MELANIATRUMP) September 14, 2016
The records AP examined suggest she began paid work in America starting on September 10.
The documents obtained by the AP included ledgers, other accounting documents and a management agreement signed by Mrs. Trump from Metropolitan International Management that covered parts of 1996 and 1997. The AP obtained the files this week after seeking copies since August from employees of the now-defunct modeling firm, after Mrs. Trump made comments earlier this summer that appeared inconsistent with U.S. immigration rules.
Wilde, the lawyer who wrote the letter on Mrs. Trump’s behalf, told the AP in a statement that “these documents, which have not been verified, do not reflect our records including corresponding passport stamps.”
Trump may want to deport immigrants who violated U.S. immigration laws, but his wife can take solace in that only a third of Trump supporters say that undocumented immigrants are less honest and hard-working than citizens, and 35% say undocumented immigrants take jobs citizens would like to have, according to an August Pew survey.